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The verb for change is かえる。 Which kanji is used for changing a TV channel? Which kanji should be used, and why? Even native Japanese websites appear confused. Is it: 返る・変える・替える・換える?

I must be hanging around the wrong Japanese people. Even they don't seem sure!!

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Hmm I guess I am another wrong Japanese... –  Choko Dec 27 '13 at 6:07
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I looked up チャンネル and かえる in 岩波国語辞典 and 広辞苑 but couldn't find anything. here they say it's 替 but here they say it's 変... –  Choko Dec 27 '13 at 6:09
    
変える is what's coming up in google search autocomplete suggestions.. –  ssb Dec 27 '13 at 6:40

3 Answers 3

I looked in a few dictionaries, but they didn't agree on which kanji to use.

So how can we answer this question? By looking at actual usage. How do we do this? Well, you can search Google, but unfortunately, Google result estimates can be very unreliable.

Instead, I decided to search the Balanced Corpus of Contemporary Written Japanese (BCCWJ). I searched for the following five strings and wrote down how many results I found for each, then sorted the results in descending order.

Here's what I found:

  チャンネルを変え 33件
  チャンネルをかえ  3件
  チャンネルを換え  2件
  チャンネルを替え  2件
  チャンネルを代え  0件

As you can see, 変 is the most popular kanji in this case.

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It's definitely not 返る (or, for that matter, 帰る). 大辞林 has this to say about the use of kanji:

「替える」は“同種の物といれかえる”の意。「メンバーを替える」「シーツを替える」  「換える」は“他の物ととりかえる。交換する”の意。「宝石を金(かね)に換える」  「代える」は“代用する。代理とする”の意。「挙手をもって投票に代える」「命には代えられない」  「変える」は“状態を変化させる。場所を移す”の意。「髪形を変える」「態度を変える」「住所を変える」「位置を変える」「血相を変える」

Accordingly, I would go with 替える or 変える. This is supported by various chiebukuro answers: 1 2 3. Incidentally, the better word to use is 切り替える.

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The better word to use is 切り替える?? Why would we want to utter a big, 5-syllable verb to express something as boring and unimportant as flipping channels on TV? –  非回答者 Dec 27 '13 at 9:46

People seem to hate answers without conclusivity, but I think this is a case where uncertainty is the answer. Japanese, like all languages, is in flux. As such, there are cases where there is not yet overwhelming consensus on ways of expressing certain ideas, and I believe that this is one of those cases.

Consider in English that there is controversy about whether "microphone" should be abbreviated to "mike" or "mic". I personally stand by "mike", but there are a lot of people who insist it must be "mic". Similarly, people are still in flux about whether electronic mail should be written "email", "e-mail", or if simply "mail" is sufficient.

For a Japanese example of a word in flux, there is the matter of the reading of 雰囲気. The kanji should, according to most dictionaries, be read ふんいき, but most people I know say ふいんき.

I've never before considered which is the kanji for かえる in the context of a television before, but 替える or 変える are both correct enough as far as I can tell from looking into it a bit. So go with the one you prefer, and be prepared that you have a 50/50 chance that the one you're using could fall out of favour in the overall Japanese speaking world. As an interesting side note, as television slowly loses relevance to consuming entertainment over the internet, it may never really come to a solid resolution, as it might become too unimportant to really finalize.

As a native English speaker, I can make a personal insistence on "mike" for "microphone", and I go with "email" and sometimes just "mail" depending on context. I don't care how much anyone else claims to know the language, I can make my case for how I speak and stand by it. As a non-native learner of Japanese, the reality is that it's much harder to participate in the language that way. Especially in consideration of a strong cultural thread in Japan that has many Japanese people believing that the Japanese language can not be truly understood by non-Japanese. You may very well encounter Japanese people who will insist that one or the other kanji is the definitively correct one, and they will not allow for you to be making a choice of your own. There is also a strong perception among many Japanese that there is little subjectivity in their language, and their sense of consensus necessarily means for them that their individual take is de facto objectively correct. Not all Japanese people, of course, but when dealing with such people, in the course of their interaction with you, they will not consider the existence of other native Japanese speakers who might disagree with them. That's just the reality you have to contend with sometimes. If you want to stand by your choice, you'll have to back it up with more evidence than you might if you were speaking your own native language.

So, the bottom line is both 替える or 変える are acceptable enough... for the time being. I personally like 替える. Which do you prefer?

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I can conclusively say that it's 'mic' not 'mike'. And therefore it's 変える in this situation. Unless you hate Japanese TV, in which case it's 替える since all the channels are the same for all intents and purposes, and there is no reason to consider changing the channel and actual change of state. (Disclaimer: this entire comment was in jest) –  jmac Jan 27 at 5:22

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